race to the race to the top

Albany fails to vote on charter cap as RttT deadline passes

The state legislature failed to vote on a proposal to raise the state’s cap on charter schools today as the deadline for the federal Race to the Top competition came and went.

This meant that the state submitted its application for the federal grant program today with a nearly maxed-out cap of 200 charter schools still intact. The competition favors states without restrictions on the growth of charters.

There is much more to the content of the state’s application than the charter school dust-up. Charter school advocates and opponents argue over how much the failure to raise the cap will matter for New York’s bid for up to $700 million of the stimulus fund. Charter supporters point to statements from federal officials that suggest every point will matter in the competition, while others downplay the cap’s importance in the grand scheme of the competition.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch emphasized today that the application also includes an overhaul of teacher training, certification and the way school districts collect and track student data.

“I believe the application is eloquent and articulate and sets out a bold reform agenda,” she said. “I want to talk about what’s in this application. I want people to understand how broad it is.”

We haven’t yet seen New York’s full plan, which likely runs hundreds of pages long. But the agenda will be subject to intense scrutiny in coming months as observers take up Tisch’s call.

If New York’s plan does not make the cut for the first round of Race to the Top awards, renewed attention will also likely be focused on what changes the state might make in time for the second round deadline in June. States that do not make the first cut for grants will receive detailed feedback on how they can improve their proposals from federal education officials, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said today.

And there’s no sign that Mayor Michael Bloomberg intends to abandon his push for legislative changes that could change the way teachers are hired, fired and evaluated.

As much as charter advocates want to push bills raising the cap and the mayor wants reforms, however, all attention for the immediate future will be on the budget. Charter supporters will have to devote most of their energy to fighting the governor’s plan to freeze the amount of money charter schools receive per student.

In comments on the Obama administration’s announcement today of a $1.35 billion extension of Race to the Top, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten reminded observers that much more is yet to come.

“While the president’s intention to extend Race to the Top demonstrates his commitment to making public education a national priority, all we know today about how well the program will work is that many states have submitted applications,” Weingarten said.

Here’s our live-blog of the debate in Albany over the charter cap lift.

And here’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor David Paterson’s joint statement in response to the day’s outcome:

JOINT STATEMENT FROM MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG AND GOVERNOR DAVID A. PATERSON ON FAILURE TO BRING GOVERNOR’S BILL TO RAISE THE CAP ON CHARTER SCHOOLS TO THE FLOOR OF THE LEGISLATURE

“This afternoon New York State’s Race to the Top application was filed with the federal government.

“Today is a sad day for the children of New York, for the tens of thousands of students on wait lists for charter schools and for the thousands more who need and deserve better educational choices. We are disappointed that we may now miss out on an opportunity to receive unprecedented federal funding for our schools and our children. It is unthinkable that after being advised to make specific changes to enhance our application, the Legislative Leaders could not come to an agreement on legislation that would have significantly increased our competitiveness.

“Filing this application is in the best interest of New York’s 3 million schoolchildren and the people of New York. We have been offered a rare opportunity to receive unprecedented federal funding for our schools and our children when we need it most. As we have said throughout this process, our application is strong. But given the competitive nature of this selection process, we believe that the State Legislature should have joined our efforts to do everything in our power to ensure that New York is a true competitor for Race to the Top grants.  It is incumbent upon us as lawmakers to take any and all action necessary to succeed in a process that would reap up to $700 million in funds for education.

“On behalf of the City and the State, we want to thank Senator Dean Skelos for his efforts to pass this important legislation. In addition, we would like to thank Senators Craig Johnson, Ruben Diaz Sr., and members of the Senate Republican Conference, Assembly members Sam Hoyt and Brian Kolb and members of the Assembly Republican Conference and the other legislators who supported the Governor’s legislation which offered our State the greatest opportunity to receive Round 1 Race to the Top funding. Since introducing that bill on January 7th, the Governor met on several occasions with the Legislative Leaders, there were numerous staff meetings and the Governor’s office was open to negotiations. The Governor revised the legislation to reflect many of the concerns raised by the Leaders and their members. But, those efforts were not met halfway by our Legislative Leaders. It was not until the 11th hour that Legislative Leaders, without notice or negotiation, submitted their own bill on the Race to the Top competition – a bill that would ultimately have undermined the improvement that the Race to the Top grants intend to achieve.

“Race to the Top provides an unprecedented opportunity to reform our schools and challenge an educational status quo that is failing too many children. President Obama and Congress have provided significant financial support for school reform. This is a chance to change our schools and to accelerate student achievement, and we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that we are more than eligible to receive as much federal funding as possible as this process continues.”

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”